Oprah Winfrey Kicks Off Her New Book Club on Apple TV+ With Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer

Like so many other companies getting into the content game, the traditionally hardware-focused Apple launched Apple TV+ today with a promising partnership with the master of the media universe, Oprah Winfrey, whose Oprah’s Book Club will now be available to more than 900 million iPhones worldwide.


Everyone’s favorite billionaire sat down with award-winning author, essayist and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates to discuss his debut novel, The Water Dancer, described in an Apple press release:

We follow [the protagonist Hiram Walker’s] unexpected journey from the plantation to the dangerous abolitionist movements of the North. Hiram is enlisted in the underground railroad where he attempts to free the family he left behind. To do so, he must first master his magical gifts and reconstruct the story of his greatest loss. Ta-Nehisi Coates spent ten exhaustive years researching the book which debuted at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List. The author takes viewers back to Monticello where he spent time researching the lives of the more than 600 enslaved people who were owned by Thomas Jefferson at his sprawling estate in Virginia. Oprah and Ta-Nehisi also take questions from the audience.

Winfrey and Coates conducted their exchange at the Apple Carnegie Library in Washington, D.C., and discussed not only the moving, fantastical story of young Hiram but related topics like how the darker sides of history are uncomfortable for many Americans.

“Do you feel like that’s why so many people don’t want to look at history, because you hear this all the time, particularly from white people but also from some black people who don’t want to look back, because they don’t want to be reminded, and people who say that doesn’t have anything to do with now,” asks Winfrey.

“You know what I find, is that people genuinely want to look back at history that makes them feel good about themselves; If history flatters them, they’re fine. When it does something else, it becomes a little harder,” replies Coates. “So I believe that people often have a really a la carte relationship with history. They take what they want…”

After applause from the audience, Oprah quips, “Brother Coates gonna preach this evening!”

Winfrey also admits that after reading The Water Dancer she no longer uses the word “slave” to describe those forced into brutal bondage, and how Coates brought to life the humanity of the enslaved characters he wrote about.


“One of the things that I learned from this book is not to use the term ‘slave’ anymore; that we should be using the term “enslaved people.” Because as you’ve written before, you’ve said slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh, it is a specific enslaved woman whose mind is as active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own,” Oprah reveals.

Coates also talks about the effects of dehumanizing language, thrown about so freely today from those in high places and elsewhere; that there is a very real consequence there, directly tied to the use of words.


“If you’re from a city like where I’m from, which is Baltimore, and you hear it being described as rat-infested, and all sorts of adjectives and colorful language, that make it seem like a place that human beings don’t live or if you’re from some other country, and you hear that sort of...dehumanizing language used to describe that place, you’re right to be afraid. Because usually what people are following up behind that language is doing something, some sort of violent act,” Coates reveals. “It makes it Ok.”

In addition to Oprah’s book club to Apple TV+ is dropping several other shows including For All Mankind, The Morning Show, See, Helpsters, Dickinson, Ghostwriter, Snoopy in Space, reports Engadget.


According to CNBC, the service can be accessed through the pre-installed TV app on Apple’s devices, including the iPhone and iPad, as well as through apps for various smart TVs and set-top boxes.

The Water Dancer is available for download now on Apple Books in both ebook and audiobook formats; also, readers can also access Coates and Winfrey’s entire conversation on Apple TV+, also available on the Apple TV app on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod touch, Mac and other platforms, including online at tv.apple.com, for just $4.99 per month with a seven-day free trial.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.



Regarding “slave” vs. “enslaved,” it is like so many words that are, in Coate’s terms, “duhumanizing” but which go on for so long and so ubiquitously that we lose the conscious sense that they are dehumanizing. And alternative wording often eludes us.

For example, describing a person with an illness as “a” anything is dehumanizing: “She’s a diabetic.” “He an Autistic.” Similarly reductive are phrases like, “She suffers from M.S.,” (whether or not there is any evidence of “suffering.”) Or, “They are wheelchair bound.”

And we also hear, the blacks love me.” (d. trump), “ghetto kid,” “from a broken home,” “a runaway.” All of these reduce the person to one thing and blot out other perceptions.

Many straightforward ways exist to describe a condition, the use of a wheelchair, or the full context of one’s family and neighborhood. There are easy alternatives that can keep us from labeling the person as nothing more than what oppresses them, as if they ARE that thing...

And most importantly in the case of “enslaved,” it puts the accountability where it belongs. It names the despicable action—using a verb—of the person who captured, sold, and oppressed people. “They were enslaved” causes me to have a visual image of the plantation owner.